The Noise Within by Ian Whates
Solaris, 2010, 7.99, 334pp
ISBN 
978-1-906735-64-7

This review first appeared in Vector

coverAll our grandmothers have, at some point during their tenure as family matriarch, told us “If you can't say anything nice then don't say anything at all,” but as a reviewer, not saying anything at all isn't really an option.  With grandmother in mind I briefly considered writing simply “I did not enjoy this book” here, however when your editor asks you for 500 words it's considered bad form to offer him just six.

So let's begin with “I did not enjoy this book,” and then work our way sadly towards the “why nots” and the “hows,” pausing only to acknowledge the undoubted time and effort that every author puts into their books.

I did not enjoy The Noise Within, despite the back cover blurb initially convincing me that I very much would (a psychological effect enhanced by the use of a font and cover layout very similar to that used on Iain M. Banks' novels).

The Noise Within employs two main viewpoint characters and a number of temps.  The first is Boulton, a mercenary with a unique selling point: he has a gun loaded with various types of mayhem and, more importantly, with an artificial intelligence which makes Boulton very good indeed at what he does. 

Kyle is one of the book's temps, a bored engineer working onboard a rich passenger ship which is captured and boarded by a remarkable pirate spaceship calling itself The Noise Within.  The sudden appearance and enigmatic behaviour of The Noise Within has created quite a splash in the galaxy; apparently unstoppable, it pops up seemingly at random to raid the aforementioned rich passenger ships and inexplicably offer a berth to one of their crew.  Kyle accepts The Noise Within's offer, but it isn't what he expected...

The second main viewpoint character is billionaire Philip Kaufman, head of Kaufman Industries and son of Malcolm Kaufman, inventor of the Kaufman Drive which revolutionised interstellar travel some years back.  Not only has Philip learned something important about The Noise Within, but his company is also heartbreakingly close to a tremendous breakthrough in the field of human-AI interfaces, one which will change the world at least as much as his father's invention.

The Noise Within suffers, in my humble opinion, from two main weaknesses: the first being that the story is hackneyed, unambitious and could just as easily have been written in the 1970s – hell, remove the sex and it could have been written in the 1950s.  Boulton, for just one example, has a powerful AI built into his gun.  The AI tells him where to shoot, when to shoot and what type of bullets to use when shooting.  That's pretty much all we learn about it, an omission that for me, a good 25 years after the cyberpunk revolution, simply isn't enough - especially since human-AI interfaces are quite a feature in this story.

The second weakness is the standard of the writing.  Whilst some of the action sequences are engaging and well paced, much of the book's exposition is, I'm afraid, desperately below par, consisting of crushingly wooden infodump exchanges that read like late-night teletext pages.

I took The Noise Within to read on holiday, expecting some lightweight space-operatic high jinks – perfect holiday reading!  Sadly even in such a carefree, undemanding setting I did not enjoy this book.

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